The Great Plains, Part 2

By Danny White

Several great funny car teams raced out of the Division Five area in the 1980s. In this round, we cover ten of them: Bill Dailey, Ernie Spickler, Tom Hovland, Mike Ranney, Roger Guzman, Bob Gibson, Jack Wyatt, Keith Jackson, Darrell Amberson, and Doc Halladay. — Updated Feb 15, 2008

Springfield, Missouri’s Bill Daily and his Lone Ranger were one of the most colorful funny car acts of the era. Bill and teammates Fuhr and Stryker built the Arrow in 1978. It was the second funny car for the team, replacing an earlier Monza. This Arrow burned to the ground in 1980. It was replaced by the ex-Powers Steel Corvette, repainted as “Pegasus,” and was followed by the ex-Larry Brown “Okie Smoker” Arrow, also repainted as “Pegasus.” It was under this moniker that Dailey earned most of his fame. Bill shared the driving duties on the second Arrow with former owner Larry Brown. The Arrow ran a known best of 6.35, 218 in 1981. Daily took a few spins after Bill Chappelle in the “Life In The Fast Lane” Vega in 1983, too. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Bret Kepner and Draglist files)

Hell’s Cargo was the final race car of Ernie Spickler’s long nitro career. Ernie partnered with Ernie Jordan on the Trans Am and even had Jolly Rancher sponsorship in the late 70s. The team lost the sponsorship and tried to sell the car but brought back the Hell’s Cargo name for the Trans Am with this new paint job. Gary Ritter was the driver of choice for the Hell’s Cargo in mostly match race action in the early eighties. (Photo courtesy of Bob Gibson; info from Bob Gibson and Draglist files)

Tom Hovland’s beautiful Main Attraction Corvette was one of the best funny cars of the early eighties, enjoying success on both the AHRA and NHRA tours. Tom purchased the car from Tom Hoover, his third ex-Tom Hoover machine after the ex-Showtime Vega and Monza. Jamie Sarte’ built the original car, and Don Ness redid it after a few seasons. Hovland just missed the five-second zone when he ran a 6.03, 237.46 at Indy. Tom ran for a few more years but never regained the 6.0 combination. (Photo courtesy of John Kilburg; info from Bret Kepner and Draglist files)

The Colorado-based Ranney family was the third funny car team to use the High Plains Drifter name (joining Chris Eckert and Jim McMurray). However, the Ranneys had used the name for years on their AA/Fuel Altered, so they were the originals. Father Bill drove the altered before the team joined the flopper ranks, as so many other AA/FA teams did. The team raced this Monza with Mike Ranney and Clint Miller both driving the car into the six-second zone at high altitude tracks. The Ranneys switched to Top Fuel and raced into the nineties. (Photo courtesy of Big Bob Snyder; info from Draglist files)

Roger Guzman’s series of Assassination funny cars were always pretty, and this final version in the series might have been the best looking of the bunch. Roger and driver Rob Williams took the beautiful Dodge Omni to many wins. The candy apple orange and red machine ran a best of 5.92 at 242 and was always a threat to win national events. In 1982 the team painted the car in the livery of the After the Gold Rush restaurant chain, and veteran Art Ward took over the controls. Art and Roger retired after that effort. Guzman attempted to return to racing later in the decade but did not make it to the track. (Photo courtesy of Tim Neumeyer; info from Draglist files)

Bob Gibson was one of the racers that really kicked the nostalgia funny car movement into high gear. Bob has owned too many funny cars to list in this story, but he did run this Monza on nitro for a short time in the mid-eighties. Gibson bought the former Assassination Monza from a racer who never made it to the track. Bob repainted the car as the Firestar and built a cast iron Chevy for power. The car ran 7.00s before being converted to a Super Comp altered and sold. (Photo courtesy of Bob Gibson; info from Bob Gibson and Draglist files)

Jack Wyatt raced alcohol funny cars for eight years before making the leap into nitro funny cars. The Iowa-based racer built this Iversen-bodied Daytona in 1986. Wyatt raced the boxy funny for a couple of years until he burned it to the ground in 1988 during the only running of the IHRA Texas Nationals at Ennis. Wyatt rebuilt the car with a new Corvette body but went a known best of 5.90, 225 with the Daytona. Wyatt still races today and was named the IHRA Sportsman of the Year in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Tim Neumeyer; info from Draglist files)

Like the Ranney clan listed above, the Jackson Bros. raced a Chevy-powered AA/FA out of Colorado. They, too, switched to funny cars when the AA/FA scene died out in the late seventies. After Cal Jackson retired from the driver’s seat, Les’ son Keith took over the controls of the High Heaven Firebird. The team was very successful on the match race circuit, scoring many wins on slick tracks and running a best of 5.89, 245. (Photo courtesy of Keith Jackson; info from Draglist files)

Darrell Amberson built this Dodge Daytona in 1989 after a short stint as one of Ted Combis’ many hired drivers. Amberson had raced his own Ambition cars before driving for Combis, and he returned to self-ownership with this machine. With backing from General Tire and Roadway Custom Trailers, Darrell was able to qualify at most races. Although he did not score any major wins, Amberson ran well, hitting a best of 5.57, 264.78 before retiring from drag racing. Like many others, the high cost of racing forced Darrell to sell his operation. (Handout photo courtesy of Curt Swartz; info from Draglist files)

Doc Halladay was a long-time racer before buying into the Telstar partnership with Charlie Proite in the late seventies. Doc eventually bought out Proite and raced the Telstar Plymouth Arrow on his own. Halladay was a match race legend as well as one of the toughest hombres on the AHRA circuit. After the AHRA folded and the match race circuit dried up, Doc turned to the IHRA and ran this Dodge Daytona. Halladay became one of the premier racers in that organization, too, hitting a best of 5.416, 267.85 in 1990. Doc narrowly lost the IHRA World Championship in ’89 (to RC Sherman) and ’90 (to Chuck Etchells). (Photo by Mike Beach, courtesy of Curt Swartz; info from Bret Kepner and Draglist files)